The word “prime” means “of the best possible quality.” Toyota defines the newest version of its hugely popular Prius hybrid as “the pinnacle of efficiency and technology for Prius,” and so they named it Prius Prime.
Contributing to the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime’s summit is a new dual-motor hybrid powertrain delivering a fuel economy rating of 133 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent). That’s a 26-percent increase over the outgoing Prius Plug-in Hybrid (which the Prime replaces), and the highest rating in the automotive industry.
Prius Prime is designed to drive in EV mode more often than its predecessor, expanding the car’s driving range, and it can travel up to 25 miles in battery-only mode. It also has other driver-selectable modes: EV Auto Mode and Hybrid Mode.
EV Auto Mode skews more toward electric power, especially during shorter trips in urban and suburban driving. When it’s more efficient to run the gasoline engine, such as when hill climbing, the gas engine will kick in. In Hybrid Mode, the power source is primarily the engine, with the electric motor giving some assistance. In Hybrid Mode, Prime’s city/highway/combined EPA rating is 55/53/54 mpg.
There are three trim levels of the Prius Prime: Plus, Premium and Advanced. Base pricing, including an $865 destination charge, starts at $27,965.
My tester was the Advanced model, whose standard equipment above and beyond the base model includes SofTex (synthetic leather) seats, heated front seats and steering wheel, power driver’s seat, 11.6-inch touchscreen, premium audio and multimedia systems, automatic headlights, wireless smartphone charging, satellite radio, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, LED fog lights, and rain sensing windshield wipers.
The Prius Prime Advance also has standard parking assist systems. When activated by the driver, they can automatically steer the car into and out of a parallel parking space, and reverse the car into a perpendicular space. When driving in close quarters such as a narrow driveway or alley, audible warnings are given if the car gets too close to obstacles on either side.
It’s a midsize car, but the Prius Prime has seating for four rather than five in order to accommodate the new hybrid system. The four people seated within will enjoy the abundant room in the cabin. Cargo space accessed via the rear hatch is limited, and lowering the hatch requires a bit more than the usual amount of effort for a car.
In addition to multimedia information, navigation and audio system controls, the customizable screens in the centrally mounted gauge panel include Energy Monitor, Hybrid System, and Climate Control Indicator, along with numerous eco features such as Eco Score, Eco Savings Record, Drive Monitor and Eco Diary.
In rating the intuitiveness of the screens and their operation, I’d say “medium.” I was able to squeak by during the test week without having to resort to the owner’s manual, which is as thick as the average novel.
I developed a personal relationship with the eco features. At the end of each trip, they include feedback, in text, about how well or not-so-well you did, offering congratulations or ways to improve your fuel economy. I felt like an idiot, but the approvals I got made me feel good and the suggestions for improvement caused resentment. The worst was on a 97-degree day in Snohomish County when the message said “Perhaps if you’d used the air conditioning more moderately you’d have done better, you spoiled snowflake.” Or something like that.
Just two smallish actual complaints: The visors cover only about half the side window and could really use extenders, and the audible warning beeps during backup can be irritating. There’s no need to sound like a forklift when just an initial warning when first shifting into reverse would be fine. Possibly by poring over the Prius owner’s manual there’s a way to shut off the continual beeps, but I asked a friend who just bought a new Prius V and he said as far as he knows, there isn’t.
In the big picture, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is a welcome and impressive advancement in hybrid technology and design from the company who pioneered hybrid vehicles. Congratulations, as the Prime would say.
2017 TOYOTA PRIUS PRIME ADVANCED
Base price, including destination charge: $33,965
Price as driven: $36,305
Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.